Review: Let's get physical.
The first thing I noticed about NHL 10 is that EA Sports was so proud of NHL 09 that it put "NHL 09: Winner of Twelve Sports Game of the Year Awards" in the corner of this season's box. Of course, NHL 09 is in a smaller font, so you immediately see the big words ?Winner... Sports... Awards,? maybe in an attempt to convince people that this season is just as revolutionary.
NHL 10 does improve upon the esteemed NHL 09 season by getting more physical, especially in two key areas. First, when a fight breaks out on the ice, the camera shifts into a new first-person perspective and the player's initially transparent body disappears completely. You're left with two fists, controlled with the right analog stick, and the ugly and uncomfortably close mug of your opponent. To dodge his swinging arms, players can use the left analog stick to block, but the blows are difficult to avoid and it's easier to flick the right analog stick up and down to get off as many punches as possible. While not revolutionary, when compared to the fighting styles of previous NHL seasons, these brief moments of first-person hockey are an entertaining switch and a little more personal.
More integral to all three periods in a hockey game is the addition of all-new board play. The Triangle button allows players who possess the puck to shield it with their body and to kick-pass it to nearby teammates. While on defense, this same button pins the puck-carrying opposition against the glass in an attempt to steal or at least rough up the offense in the process. At any time, players can let go of the Triangle button to back away from the glass, making this new control mechanic feel similar to a third-person shooter's cover system. Although borrowed from a very different genre, this gameplay addition feels natural, looks natural and is a whole lot of fun to perform.
The brand new Battle for the Cup mode is also a little genre-bending, as it brings storylines to what was once your typical, dry multi-game Playoffs mode. This isn't just about selecting best of 3, best of 5 or best of 7 rounds anymore. The announcers know that if it goes to a Game 7, everything is on the line and they'll recall the exciting events that occurred earlier in the series. The game is also aware of the who's who of injuries and will ask if the team will take revenge on the offender. These dramatic build-ups bring the television presentation of the always-thrilling playoffs to the game, making the presentation of past NHL video games resemble the dullness of watching the often-lifeless regular season broadcasts.
Other standouts like the stats-heavy Be a GM feature and 30-person (one friend for every time) multiplayer season mode prove to be in-depth for hockey-a-holics. But, NHL 10's modes won't do much for casual players who aren't obsessed with playing this sport as a simulation title. There aren't any mini-games and there's certainly no arcade play. That's never been what EA's hockey series has been about. NHL 10, like its predecessors, puts the emphasis on realism instead of trying to grow its base and provides a couple of physical improvements for existing fans. That said, while the series hasn't advanced in the last 12 months as much as it did 24 months ago, that's only because NHL 09 was that revolutionary.
Between the two major hockey releases, it's still the better hockey game; you could always be playing NHL 2K10 instead with the big highlight of riding a Zamboni.